I’d been meaning to continue the adventures of the Dodge Colt but have gotten myself blindsided by such a cold today that I can hardly see straight. This, obviously, sets the stage for one of two courses of action:
1) briefly post an update that says “Ugh – feeling like crap, will post later.”
2) see what happens to my narrative skills when I’m dosed up on cough syrup.
You know I’m an empirical scientist, right?
So – are you with me? Let’s see what happens. As I said, what I was going to write about was one of the other adventures in the Colt – that drive back up the Central Valley on another occasion, when a mysterious ticking sound I’d been hearing since I left Seattle (Harry Potter) suddenly replaced itself by a metal-rending lurch and the poor beast turned itself into a 2100 pound paperweight just short of the exit to Three Rocks, California.
That was not long after the first trip South, in the spring of 1986. I hoofed it to a pay phone and started dialing. Don’t recall who or what I thought anyone could do for me – I was a broke-as-anything grad student with a dead car smack dab in the middle of… well, in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I reached my college room mate Gregor, up in Palo Alto – don’t know why I had his number handy (did we always carry address books back then?), or what I thought he could do for me. I think I was just really doing the Vox Clamatis in Deserto thing – crying out in the wilderness.
You know how they say “Friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies”? Well, if they’re a really good friend, they drop everything they’re doing on a Sunday night and drive three hours south to the wastelands of Three Rocks, California. They pull an old climbing rope out of the trunk of their VW Golf, wrap it around your front bumper, and tow you 53 miles north through back roads to Fresno, where you leave the car on the front lot of a shut down auto repair shop with a note saying “We can explain – will call soon.”
Then they drive you back to Palo Alto, feed you Chinese food and make up the couch as a guest bed while you figure out what to do next. There are few people I will ever feel as grateful to as Gregor and Terry.
I have no recollection of how it was that I made it back home to Seattle, but the Colt stayed in Fresno for a few weeks. Eventually, the auto shop put it on a northbound flatbed for some nominal cost to get it out of their lot (being pathetic often pays off if you combine it with a small nuisance factor and the promise of eternal gratitude). The guilt card – played for that Al-the-discount-for-students mechanic who’d told me the ticking was nothing to be worried about before I left Seattle – snared a salvage replacement engine plus installation for $500; the same as I’d paid for the Colt when I bought it, but with the promise, as it were, of a known quantity under the hood.
There were plenty more adventures, of course, after this one. Al’s assurances held true. The cross-country drive across Canadian Highway One that fall – nearly getting run off the road in Carberry (when the license plates say “Friendly Manitoba!” you know they’ve got something to hide). Running out of gas and cash in Thunder Bay (You want “friendly”? Ontarians are seriously friendly). Getting hopelessly lost in just outside of Wawa (means “Big Goose”, if you needed to know) and being directed back to the highway by instructions to follow the series of enormous fiberglass animals by the roadside. And realizing, somewhere between Blackpool and Burlington that I was going to be arriving late on a Saturday night, smack dab in the middle of a Halloween party, and that my samurai costume wouldn’t be complete without a bokken practice sword. What are the odds of finding an open martial arts supply shop in the backroads of Vermont on a Saturday night (no fair using the internet – this was back when we had to stalk stuff like this by smell). To this day, I still think it was a rift in space-time, but swerving through the north woods that night, I came around the corner, and there it was. I still have that sword, and pick it up from time to time to convince myself that it wasn’t all a dream.
And then there was the return trip westbound, four days before Christmas. I later learned that they called it “The Ice Storm of ‘89”. But I had to four days to catch the last ferry out from Seattle to Bremerton if I was going to get to spend Christmas with Mary and her family. 3100 miles meant 12 hours a day in the Colt if I kept my speed up, so there wasn’t any time to pay attention to the weather.
I had a couple of books on tape; yes, they were really on tape back then. I’d plugged my Walkman into the adaptor for the cigarette lighter, but had the keep the device itself inside my parka. The heat on the Cold never did work that well (remember that window that didn’t close properly?), and if I left the Walkman on the seat, the tape woooouulllld sllloowwww doooooown like some bad sci fi sound effect until the audio ground to a halt.
Yes, it was cold, but there was crazy stuff on the highway, too. I started the second morning at dawn on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Car wouldn’t start because of the cold, but the auto garage across the street (pity card, plus earnest, endearing smile) helped me push it into one of their bays until it warmed up enough to run. Plugged “Flight of the Intruder” in on my ear buds, and don’t remember much else other than flipping tapes until the novel ended late that night. Pulled off the next exit to discover that I’d made it to western Nebraska.
There were vague memories of the time in between, but only vague memories. Seeing tanker trucks, jackknifed in the snow, straddling the median. A semi rig its side. A vague memory of the windshield wipers freezing up in sleet, and me reaching around with my American Express card (only card I carried back then) to try to chip away at the ice so I could see far enough to make it to an offramp. Crazy, crazy stuff.
Oops. Uh, just remembered that my mom reads this blog (Hi mom!). Don’t worry, it wasn’t nearly that bad – I’m sure this is just the cough syrup speaking.
But, as with all those other trips, I made it. I remember eastern Washington, coming down the late afternoon mountainside made of gold, as the sun hung low against the endless fields of dry grass. And I remember pulling into the ferry terminal in Seattle, too pumped with adrenaline to speak, with an easy 30 minutes to spare before the last boat left for Bremerton that night.
The Colt had many other adventures, too. Was still running strong when Devon’s parents – we were dating by then – sold me their old Tercel for an almost giveaway price (“We like to think of it as an investment.”), and I gave it to David and Amy to commute to/from the small winery they were trying to get started outside of Portland.
Years later, David told me that it had served them well, too, on those daily hauls. Bit by bit, old Pablo (yes, they started calling it “Pablo”) began burning through more and more oil, until one day it just overheated by the roadside somewhere out in the woods. David hitched a ride back into town, and that was the last anyone ever saw of it.
So. Was there a point to this little digression down memory lane? Looking back a, not really. Maybe “A Boy and His First Car”? That’s the fun thing about writing, I guess. I had always thought that I wrote to tell other people what I knew, or what I thought. My mom (still with us here, right?) pointed out that, much of the time, she writes to figure out what she thinks. Sort of like Dylan Thomas’ Childs Christmas in Wales – you plunge your hands into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out comes… something special.